2020 has forevermore changed medicine. Whether you were a frontline provider or a provider whose work routine was otherwise delayed, put on hold, or otherwise impacted, you had to adapt to the unprecedented conditions.
For many physicians, that meant dipping into retirement, rainy-day savings and/or finding alternative sources of income. Pivoting was the name of the game. So that’s what we did.
Interestingly enough, some of us found ourselves in telehealth.
As an ER physician, I too, found myself in unusual circumstances. I had already protected myself with alternative sources of income-aside from the typical brick-and-mortar emergency work I was trained to practice. I worked in industry, dabbled in some consulting, and did some paid mentoring. But ultimately, it was telehealth that found me most intrigued.
My journey into telehealth actually started serendipitously. A recruiter reached out to me through email, and for whatever reason, I ended up responding to the message. Initially, I was hesitant- after all, to me, the uncharted territory of telehealth mediolegal was intimating as much as learning another system and EMR was also exhausting to think about. But I took a chance.
Fast forward, and I’ve now been with my telehealth company for over a year. Details about the job itself could be another entire blog post. But what I will say about the experience is this: telehealth has significantly reduced my burnout and improved my overall wellness. It offers me flexibility to take my shifts from anywhere in the country (potentially in the world) and to still practice medicine. It allows me to maintain some sort of autonomy over my work and life. And it gives me back the face-to-face and one-on-one time with patients that I crave at my regular brick-and-mortar job. Time I am so often not afforded because of patient volumes and other work-related constraints. For me, telehealth literally brought the doctor-patient relationship back to the bedside. And for that opportunity, I am grateful. Telehealth has abated my burnout.
Medicine has no doubt changed and will continue to change in these unprecedented times. This is true for all specialties, and especially true for the emergency room physician. I hope to have a career that will last me through the coming decades. But I also know that there needs to be sustainability for me as a provider, and more importantly for me as a human.
For me, burnout is avoided when I feel like I have more control over my schedule/time, when I feel like my quality of care isn’t impeded by the demands of the electronic health record or patient volume-to-doctor ratios, and when I feel fairly compensated for my work. Telehealth offers me many of these advantages and has been the most unexpected light in a recently dark tunnel.